THE BLACK LAGOON POP-UP ROSE FROM THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC like a cocktail-shaking bat out of hell.
For two-and-a-half decadent weeks last October, this fantastically freaky creep show presented by Canadian bar star Kelsey Ramage and L.A.-based Erin Hayes welcomed 3,600 ghouls and goblins to a fully immersive house of horrors on Toronto’s Bloor Street West.
Dense with foliage, shrouded in fog and pulsing with black lights, the seated venue was animated with mechanical zombies, campy burlesque dancers and other devil-ish creatures that go bump in the night.
“Kelsey Ramage crushed it,” says judge Jon Smolensky, owner of Vancouver-based Sovereign Wine and Spirits. Black Lagoon wasn’t just the best pop-up of the year, he adds. “This may have been the best popup bar in Canada’s history.”
As one would fully expect from Tales of the Cocktail’s 2020 International Bartender of the Year, Ramage’s drinks were pure class stirred with a drop of kitsch. The fizzy canned Hexes for Your Exes (whisky, melon, pineapple and bianco vermouth) was so popular that it will be making a comeback this fall, when Black Lagoon is revived in eight North American cities, including Toronto as well as Montreal, Chicago and New York.
Perfectly timed, during the brief respite between Toronto’s Delta and Omicron lockdowns, Black Lagoon shook the cobwebs from the city’s collective fugue state and gave everyone — even those who didn’t attend — a crystal-ball gaze into parties past and future.
For the ever-industrious Ramage, who launched Dolly Trolley Drinks, a cocktail delivery service, almost immediately after her acclaimed Supernova Ballroom was shut down by the industry-wide closures (and later shuttered permanently), Black Lagoon gave her something solid to hang onto.
She is currently scouting locations for Supernova Ballroom 2.0, either Toronto or Vancouver, where she began her bartending career before making it big at London’s Dandelyan and travelling the world with Iain Griffiths and their collaborative Trash Tiki pop-ups. In the meantime, she is taking Black Lagoon on the road with one-night summer previews in those eight cities. “
Everyone is still a little pensive,” Ramage says, “but I am very happy I can now make plans that don’t revolve around sending drinks out by mail.”
Photos by Brilynn Ferguson